- Andrew Marchand, ESPN Senior Writer
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At least one official within the New York Yankees' hierarchy feels they now have the best bullpen in baseball, thanks to the signing of Rafael Soriano. The Yankees have finally answered for failing to sign Cliff Lee -- and it is the best they could give in this marketplace.
With no elite starter available, with reliever Joakim Soria off limits in Kansas City, Soriano was the right move.
And it could prove even better because entering Thursday night, there were two impact pitchers still out on the market. The Yankees have one down now and one to go.
Soriano's initial impact may reach all the way down to Texas, where Andy Pettitte is doing his usual Brett Favre routine -- without as much drama -- picking off flower petals, saying, "Retire? Retire not?"
The Yankees know that Pettitte will only return to the Bronx. They thought if they had signed Lee, then Pettitte would be more likely to come back because Pettitte wants to win. Now, they have done the best they could post-Lee. They have added the American League leader in saves to pitch the eighth inning.
Besides the $12-13 million they have in front of Pettitte, Soriano's signing makes it much clearer how they can beat the AL Hot Stove champions, the Boston Red Sox, in October.
So Soriano's first setup might be to entice Pettitte to return and give it one more try.
Realize this: Despite GM Brian Cashman's public words that the Yankees are not counting on Pettitte to return, the Yankees are also not counting Pettitte out either. There are strong voices in the organization who still think he will return. Maybe Soriano offers that final nudge.
Even if Pettitte doesn't return, the Soriano move makes great sense. His agent, Scott Boras, said the only team Soriano would setup for is the Yankees. The Yankees have taken Boras up on that offer and now have a dominant facet. They have a bullpen that is not only better than the Red Sox's, but especially designed to beat Boston.
Besides Soriano in the eighth and Rivera in the ninth, the Yankees suddenly have an unbelievably strong pen. Joba Chamberlain may have a career that is going the wrong way, but as a seventh-inning guy in combo with David Robertson, that's not too shabby a prospect for the Yanks. Add in Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan to take care of the Red Sox's left-handed bats, and suddenly Boston, while still the favorites, are not as prohibitive favorites anymore.
Soriano, meanwhile, is almost unhittable against right-handers, making manager Joe Girardi's charts easy to read and execute. Girardi, who usually uses the bullpen very well, just got even smarter.
The question about Soriano, 31, is how will he fit into the Yankees' universe after being the man in Tampa last season. Will he be able to accept being the eighth-inning guy? And will he, as Boras told ESPNNewYork.com last week, truly look to learn from Rivera.
At the onset of free agency, Boras went over each and every team with Soriano. When Boras got to the Yankees he told Soriano the obvious, the only chance there is to setup.
Of course, the dollars had to be right -- and they are. Boras, as usual, is a money magician, creating a market seemingly out of thin air. Soriano -- who had 45 saves but didn't seem to have many offers -- is still being paid like a closer.
If he does his job correctly, he very well will follow the Babe Ruth of relievers, Rivera, in 2013. It is no coincidence that the third year of Soriano's contract jumps to $14 million, which is the season after Rivera's current two-year deal ends. At that point, Rivera will be 43 and may say goodbye to the game.
Soriano will be there to close. But he now may get his first Yankee save.
While it is impossible to believe that Pettitte's decision will be based solely on Soriano's signing, this may make the wavering Pettitte think a little harder about returning.
Pettitte, 38, would have to walk away from a lot of money and a team that once again looks as though it can get not only get to October, but win in October.
Soriano said yes to the Yankees. The question now is: Is Pettitte next?
2dKevin Van Valkenburg